(By: Khushi Bansal, A student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh)

India is a land of customs and rituals where dowry also came up as a tradition exacerbating the plight of married women and necessitating the enactment of laws for their protection from various forms of cruelty. Consequently, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 came into force initially encompassing the provisions for prevalent acts of cruelty at that time. However, over time, definition of the term “cruelty” has widened considerably to include physical, mental and other forms of cruelty. In order to bolster the provisions of this core legislation, the Indian Penal Code was amended in the year 1983 to introduce Section 498A, aimed at safeguarding women from exploitation by her husband and in-laws. Unfortunately, numerous cases have been surfaced where women are seen misusing these provisions in order to retaliate against their husbands and families. This concern has been addressed in the following article.

Section 498A of IPC:

This section prescribes the punishment, i.e. imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years along with fine, in the cases where the husband or his relatives subject a woman to cruelty. For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means-

  1. any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
  2. harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand

The primary goal of this section is to prevent the husband or other family members from subjecting his wife to dowry-related torture and to impose penalties on those who do so. Prior to 1983, the accused in such cases of “matrimonial cruelty” were charged with the general sections of the code, like assault, hurt, grievous hurt, or homicide. However, the increasing cases of cruelty in demand of dowry and the cases of dowry deaths called for a special provision in the Code to safeguard the brides from being subject to abuse and violence by her in-laws. 

It becomes pertinent to note the essentials of this section before moving on to the further discussion. For the application of Section 498A of IPC, the following prerequisites must be met:

  1. The woman should be married as this section applies to the cases where the accused is either husband of the woman or his family members or both.
  2. The woman must have experienced brutality or harassment or any kind of cruel behavior. Also, a demand for dowry is harsh in itself.
  3. Such harassment should have been perpetrated by either the husband or his family or both.
  4. There should be a willful and intentional conduct to harm or harass the married woman for any reason.

Furthermore, one must note that the offence under this section is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

Interpretation of Cruelty:

Cruelty includes both physical and mental cruelty, which has been declared as an offence under Section 498A of IPC and punishment has been prescribed for the same conduct by husband of the suffering woman or relatives of the husband. Nowadays, courts also give due consideration to emotional abuse and economic exploitation. In most general words, cruelty means the ‘inhumane treatment’ towards individuals, specifically referring to a wife or daughter-in-law in this section.

In the most recent case of Sandesh Madhukar Salunkhe vs. State of Maharashtra (2024), the Bombay High Court held that comments about wife’s cooking do not amount to cruelty under Section 498A. Consequently, the court quashed the FIR registered against the relatives of the husband, accused of cruelty under Section 498A of the IPC by the wife. The court also observed that petty quarrels do not constitute cruelty under section 498A of IPC.

In Narayanan & Ors vs. State of Kerala (2023), the Kerala High Court ruled that the offence of cruelty under section 498A of IPC is not applicable in the cases of live-in relationships. Where there is no formal solemnization of marriage and the relationship is merely a live-in relationship, the woman cannot seek shelter under Section 498A of IPC.

In another recent case of Niyas, Aaramthu House v State of Kerala (2023), the High Court held that trivial disputes during the usual course of married life does not amount to dowry harassment or cruelty under Section 498A of IPC. The Court further suggested the authorities to be more cautious from dragging such mundane disputes into criminal proceedings as the legislative intent of Section 498A was not to set the criminal law into motion merely for trivial disputes and also cautioned the authorities. It was also observed that a demand for dowry or any property or valuable security, without the ingredient of “cruelty” does not constitute an offense under Section 498A of IPC.

In the case of Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik (1986), it was established that the explanation to Section 498A provides a definition of the term “cruelty.” This definition encompasses acts such as harassing a woman with the intention of coercing her or related individuals into fulfilling any unlawful demand for property or valuable security.

The above stated judgments highlight the judiciary’s proactive approach in interpreting the term “cruelty” in accordance with the evolving needs and demands of society. It is evident that the judiciary has recognized the potential misuse of legal safeguards provided to married women. Through recent judgments, the Indian judiciary has demonstrated its commitment to delivering justice by carefully interpreting the term “cruelty” and adjudicating cases while considering all relevant aspects.

Important Judicial Pronouncements:

In the case of Kaliyaperumal vs. State Of Tamil Nadu (2003), the court held that cruelty forms a fundamental aspect under Sections 304B (Dowry Death) and 498A of IPC. A person can be found guilty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code even if they were acquitted under Section 304B for a dowry-related death. The explanatory notes of Section 498A define “cruelty,” while Section 304B does not provide a specific definition. So, the definition of “cruelty” or “harassment” outlined in Section 498A is considered applicable to Section 304B as well. Under Section 304B, a death is deemed a dowry death if it occurs within the first seven years of marriage, whereas Section 498A encompasses offenses related to cruelty without specifying a timeframe.

In Inder Raj Malik and ors vs. Mrs. Sumita Malik, it was addressed whether this section comes under the ambit of double jeopardy since the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 also aims to tackle the similar problems. However, the Delhi High Court refused to accept this contention and held that this section does not give rise to double jeopardy. It further clarified that Section 4 of the 1961 act criminalizes only dowry without the element of cruelty, whereas Section 498A is an aggravated form of the crime.

In the case of Rupali Devi vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, the apex court, explaining the scope of a continuing offence, affirmed Section 498A to be a continuing offence.

However, with the passage of time, there has been a notable shift in judicial decisions concerning such cases due to the widespread misuse of this provision by the married women in order to tarnish the reputation of husband and his relatives and harass them unnecessarily. In the present times, the judiciary has initiated to address this issue seriously, as evidenced by numerous court judgments. In Savitri Devi vs. Ramesh Chand and others, the court highlighted the misuse of this provision to an extent that it is hitting for the marriage itself and is not good for society at length. In Sushil Kumar Sharma vs. Union of India and others also, the court stated that most of the complaints nowadays are not bona fide and are filed with an oblique motive.

 In the case of Arnesh Kumar vs. State of Bihar (2018), the Court directed the police authorities to not directly make an arrest of the person accused of the offence under section 498A of IPC. In this case, even bedridden family members and relatives residing abroad were arrested. Therefore, the court laid considerable emphasis on the misuse and stated that before making an arrest, it is necessary for the police to satisfy themselves following the parameters mentioned under Section 41 of CrPC. This case brought some relief for husbands dealing with false cruelty accusations ruining marriages. Following this case, there is a growing list of instances where the court detected the malicious intent of the woman in lodging a false complaint against her husband or his relatives. 

Rampant Misuse:

The condition of misuse of this provision has worsened to such an extent that the Calcutta High Court had to pronounce the verdict considering “cruelty against men” where it was stated that filing a false complaint against under Section 498A of IPC is an element of cruelty by wife and the bench allowed dissolution of marriage on this ground. Needless to say, the ground reality is quite visible in the society where the husband and in-laws of a married woman are much threatened about such false accusations. Indeed, there has been a significant shift over time, where the concern has transitioned from the family of the woman being worried about the cruel treatment by her in-laws to that of the family of the man being concerned about false complaints under Section 498A of the IPC.

Aiming to prevent such misuse by the women, the apex court emphasized to strike a balance between safeguarding the rights of a woman and preventing the misuse of law. In Rajesh Sharma & others vs. State of U.P. & another, it was held that the arrest of the main accused shall be made only after proper investigation of the matter. In addition to this, the court also laid down several guidelines in order to protect the husband and his relatives from the false accusations. The Arnesh Kumar judgment has already been summarized above clearly proving the misuse of this Section.

In the case of State vs. Srikanth, the Karnataka High Court expressed that it is down right on the part of the police to include the whole of the family as accused. Roping in of the whole family including brothers and sisters-in-laws has to be depreciated unless there is specific material against these persons.

Besides these judicial verdicts, the 2003 Malimath Committee report on reforms in the criminal justice system acknowledges the widespread perception that Section 498A of the IPC is prone to significant misuse. While the report suggests amending the provision based on this justification, it does not provide any concrete data indicating the frequency of misuse of the section. Therefore, it is crucial to address such arguments in order to present a clearer scenario of the current factual status regarding the impact of various criminal laws enacted to protect women.

In order to provide relief to the victims of false accusations, the judiciary must ensure speedy trial of the complaints filed under Section 498A of IPC, ensuring that husbands and their relatives do not endure prolonged suffering. Proper set of rules needs to be laid down regarding investigation prior to the arrest of the accused. Unfortunately, the legislature has not come up with a solution to this problem. It is the need of the hour to address this issue in the Parliament and enact laws in this regard. Punitive measures should be implemented for making a false accusation under this section. However, it is not a wise decision to ignore the requirements of the suffering women in order to safeguard the accused. Therefore, this definitely calls for a well-rounded legislation or an amendment in this regard. It would be a commendable use of technology if the government opens up a portal for seeking recommendations to amend the law. Also, it is required by the police to make proper investigation before lodging the FIR and making the arrest. The collaborative efforts of every organ of the government will definitely tackle the problem.


Despite witnessing the pervasive misuse of Section 498A of IPC by the women, India system is pro-women making it difficult for the men and their family members to prove their innocence. In conclusion, Section 498A of the IPC, while enacted with the noble aim of safeguarding married women from cruelty, has regrettably become susceptible to widespread misuse. False accusations under this provision have led to the unjust suffering of innocent individuals and strained familial relationships. It is imperative for the judiciary to ensure a fair and prompt trial process to alleviate the plight of those falsely accused. Additionally, legislative reforms are much required to address loopholes and provide safeguards against misuse, while still upholding the rights of genuine victims. By striking a balance between the protection of women and the prevention of abuse of legal provisions, society can strive towards a more just and equitable legal system for all.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *